Had I known how much time would pass before we’d see each other
again, I would have said a different goodbye.
—Karen Thompson Walker, The Age of Miracles
There is no way to know how many hours you have
spent awake, pacing up and down the hallway
outside my bedroom door. All night, perhaps,
the thoughts scattered and gathered again,
circling in the darkness like small, restless birds.
I find you at dawn. I have been afraid for so long
that it is almost a relief to come to the end, to know
that we have finally reached the distinct separation
between water and land. You are a stranger now,
and we no longer speak a common language,
but this seems somehow unsurprising, inevitable.
Without knowing it, all these months, we’ve been
preparing to cross the ocean at night, and the fear
of leaving is only less than the fear of staying still.
By the time the ambulance arrives at the office,
it is close to dinnertime, and you’ve worn yourself
hoarse. All day, I have seen occasional flickers of you,
of the person I remember, as one might catch
a glimpse of a stone or shell beneath a shallow wave
before the ocean water carries it out of sight again.
There are two paramedics, and they help you onto a gurney
and tie you down with straps. You are shaking,
despite your jacket, and they cover you with a heavy
blue blanket. We will not be allowed to go inside
the hospital tonight, so we have to let them lift you
into the back of the ambulance and close the doors.
The grass grows high under my feet, seasons change,
this world becomes another world. I grow old and die
a thousand deaths and still I go on standing there,
watching that ambulance take you away from me.
Leah Browning is the author of three nonfiction books for teens and pre-teens and three chapbooks. This selection of poems is from her fourth chapbook, Out of Body, which is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Browning’s poetry, fiction, essays, and articles have previously appeared in publications including Mud Season Review, Fiction Southeast, Bluestem Magazine, 300 Days of Sun, Cape Fear Review, Glassworks Magazine, Heron Tree, Corium Magazine, Dressing Room Poetry Journal, Sweet: A Literary Confection, Toad, Storyscape Journal, Halfway Down the Stairs, The Blue Hour Magazine, The Literary Bohemian, The Citron Review, and Per Contra, as well as on a broadside from Broadsided Press, on postcards and bookmarks from the program Poetry Jumps Off the Shelf, with audio and video recordings in The Poetry Storehouse, and in several anthologies. In addition to writing, Browning serves as editor of the Apple Valley Review. Her personal website is located at http://www.leahbrowning.com.